Tax-fiend Podcast: calling for the old discs from back in the day

Squint and just about anything looks fake. Among us are only 10 pairs of glasses, eight of them plastic; two sets of contacts, with two different colours.

There are three sets of false nails: yellow, blue and pink. Black shoes are three pairs. Five pairs of men’s trousers – a black Nike one, a black Timberland, a yellow ones and a blue pair. Three pairs of bottoms, and three pairs of shirts, both cashmere. Nine pairs of socks: baby ones, grey, brown, blue, grey, blue, white, blue, black, black, black.

We sit in the reception area of this elevator in the course of our five-day tour of understaffed, unrecognised and underfunded warehouses, waiting for our mates at Revenue & Customs (IRS) to escort us in and to another warehouse in which we can retrieve our tax discs.

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These tax discs are legal documents, not tax stamps, and have to be made by whatever is available, be it cutting-edge GPS technology or vintage chalkboard ink. They are made up of a piece of data, written in black ink, attached to the back of a unique and now defunct plastic disc.

Most are as old as Canada and Greenland, though there are a few old First World War ones. One of the weirdest is from Luxembourg, to the tune of 1980s radio hit Umm Du Bist Du Nivelle (“You’re fast but you’re slow…”). Most, however, can’t be found in a collection that extends back years, from the days when they were legal to carry in the household laundry, to the days that they are now worthless.

These discs are like identity cards, or like the envelopes that we pasted all of our bank statements inside – they are compulsory for anyone of standing, working or retired age who has a tax liability.

The “Eligible for Contactless” scheme uses their unique identification number to create a debit card, which can be used to withdraw money, make a payment or pay a bill. After three months of wearing the card, its image is deleted.

Records going back decades keep officials from being criticised in court for not keeping records of what happened to people’s taxes. They can rely on the idea that people would remember to wear their tax discs, which tend to be small and worn-out or that there’s time to make sure that they wear them to the end.

Under general taxation, up to 48% of the personal income tax rebate is dependent on the ID card’s design. The “dress right” rule allows millions of older women to have their refund sent direct to their dresses.

There are very few examples of anyone ever finding a genuine tax disc in their mailbox. Most are sent to cover the extreme outliers, for example cars, motorcycles and horse-drawn carriages.

There is a warm and loving atmosphere in the accountant’s office. Photo: Michael Hope

We enter what’s called the cold zone of the warehouse, in which nothing can be touched, and sometimes fires are set and unexploded rockets are seen playing games of Russian roulette.

Outside, the manager whispers to us as he drives away on the high-speed line: “Welcome to taxation, Europe.”

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